“LOST MUSKET DIARY”
Monday September 22, 2014
Sunny w/light haze 86F/30C in Rancho Las Musket
Two stories caught my eye over the weekend! The first was the one about the guy that jumped the White House fence and got to the front door before the Secret Service caught him, bringing a new chorus of criticism down on the agency. The other was the “Sixty Minutes” story Sunday night about a scam that is diverting billions of tax refund dollars from the IRS and away from us taxpayers. Not a good pairing for federal watchdogs. According to the “60 Minutes” story, the US Treasury Department estimates that it sent out nearly three million fraudulent refunds to con artists last year, costing tax payers $5.2 billion. Let’s face it! We all take a calculated risk every time we go online. These two stories got me to reminiscing, and I've come up with this true story from the “MikeBo Archives.” Okay, kids…..
Once upon a time in Los Angeles, when I was still a TV newsman, I was assigned from time to time to cover the President of the United States during his visits to California; from Richard Nixon to Ronald Reagan, and his successor, George H.W. Bush. Throughout the years, I had also covered events with Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Bill Clinton along with heads of state, including HRH Elizabeth II as well as other leaders and dignitaries and had frequent dealings with the US Secret Service. It was during one of those assignments that I became a victim of identity theft. I was not alone. On November 21st, 1988, President Reagan attended the ground-breaking ceremony for his presidential library in Simi Valley, CA. I was assigned to cover it for INN-TV (Independent News Network), along with my cameraman-editor Dave Cox.
Before the event, we were required to pick up our press credentials from the Secret Service at a nearby hotel in Thousand Oaks. The event credentials had to be arranged for in advance and picked up just prior to the ceremony. The Secret Service would conduct a full background check on every name submitted. Security was always at its maximum when the President made a public appearance.
In spite of all the hoops we had to jump through to cover events like this, I always enjoyed covering Ronald Reagan as President and all the way back to his days as governor. The ground-breaking in Simi Valley was classic Reagan and we filed our stories without a hitch. He was already working on his place in history, and I covered him again when he returned to California with Nancy just after George H.W. Bush was inaugurated. A few months later, I made a career change myself and went to work for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office as DA Ira Reiner’s News Secretary. Imagine my surprise when my old cameraman, Dave, called me to tell me that a Los Angeles Police detective had called to inform him that someone had tried to use his credit card in a fraud attempt. He wanted to alert me to the possibility that I might also be a victim. I called the detective. He told me that several of the other victims were also members of the Los Angeles news media, friends of mine and Dave’s or people in the business that we knew. As the detective went down his list of scammed news people, I told him that I knew or knew of everyone on that list and we had all covered the same stories at one time or another. Then it dawned on me! I shared my own theory with the detective. Somebody had gotten ahold of a Secret Service Press Credential list. I quickly alerted my bank, the credit card companies and credit reporting agencies, but I heard no more it until two deputy U.S. Marshals showed up at my office a few months later.
The deputy marshals confirmed my original theory. The thieves that executed the scam had gotten ahold of the Secret Service press list from the Reagan Library groundbreaking ceremony and used the Social Security numbers on the list to do their crimes. My name and number were used to file a false federal income tax return which netted the crooks a tax refund of more than $17,000. Since I had filed for an extension that year, I never knew about the fraud until after the criminal case had been prosecuted, and it never caused me any problems. Much later, I received a letter from the U.S. Attorney’s office with the final outcome of the case and some additional details. Bottom line: the guys were caught, pled guilty and were serving sentences for mail fraud. Good news. Even the Secret Service had gotten scammed in this caper.
In a procedure that I am sure changed after this incident, the Secret Service would do the investigations and background checks on the news media covering the presidential event. But, the actual distribution of the credentials would be done off-site by a committee of Republican Party campaign workers providing support for the events. It was explained to me (with a straight face) that a passing housekeeper had picked up a copy of the press list from the credentials table to give to her son as “a souvenir.” I laughed out loud at that. Of course, the housekeeper had no way of knowing that “her son” worked for an identity theft ring. The thieves had a long list of names and Social Security numbers to use in their scam. My information alone was good for an easy $17,000 payoff from the IRS. I still wonder what the ultimate take from that press list turned out to be.